PITTSBURG, Kan. — For those laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic who have even been able to navigate the Kansas Department of Labor’s troubled unemployment insurance system and receive their benefits, another concern may be just around the corner as the extra $600 per week provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is set to expire.
There is also some good economic news for Kansans, though, and particularly for residents of at least some of the counties in the southeast corner of the state.
While the nationwide unemployment rate for June was 11.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in Kansas the seasonally adjusted rate was 7.5 percent, down from 10 percent in May. The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June was a tenth of a percentage point higher, at 7.6 percent.
"Kansas employers added over 30,000 jobs in June," Labor Economist Emilie Doerksen said in a KDOL press release Friday. "This combined with significant job growth in May shows that Kansas has recovered 37.4 percent of the jobs lost in March and April due to measures taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is compared to the 33.8 percent of nonfarm jobs recovered so far for the U.S."
In several southeast Kansas counties, meanwhile, the unemployment rate was lower than the state average, continuing a trend noticeable since April, when COVID-19 began to make a measurable impact on the economy.
The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for June in Cherokee and Bourbon counties were 6.6 percent — a full percentage point lower than the comparable statewide rate — while Crawford County was at 6.7 percent, Labette was at 6.8 percent, and Allen and Woodson counties’ rates were also below the statewide rate with 7.1 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
"I think it’s a reflection that we have a very diverse economy, which is good for a number of reasons, but especially in times like this when you have a sector like the retail or service sector that takes a hit," said Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson. "Well, our manufacturing sector remained strong this year, and so it really helps you through times like this when your economy is diversified, and I think that those unemployment numbers are a reflection of that."
And even in the retail and service industries, Benson said, many businesses have begun to recover and are in a better position than they were a few months ago.
"There’s a focus from the community residents to do what they can to support those retail and service type businesses," he said, "so we’ve really been fortunate that we have not seen a lot of job loss as a result of COVID."
Although Gov. Laura Kelly’s coronavirus-related executive orders began in March, unemployment numbers are calculated for the beginning of each month, and the official statewide unemployment rate for March was 2.8 percent, while the rates in southeast Kansas counties including Allen, Bourbon, Cherokee, Crawford, and Labette were higher at that time than Kansas’ rate overall. That situation has consistently been reversed for these counties since April.
Other nearby counties, however, including Neosho, Wilson and Linn had higher unemployment rates than the statewide average for June. Montgomery County’s unemployment rate has consistently been higher than the statewide rate throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
While the coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly had a major negative economic impact across the state, nation, and world, Benson appeared cautiously optimistic about the local situation, though he pointed out that there could be more hurdles to overcome in the next few months.
"I think we’re faring better than I feared, to put it that way," he said. "I think that most of our businesses have stabilized."
A major source of uncertainty, however, is the possibility that increasing numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations could lead to public health orders that would shut down many businesses again in the fall, Benson said.
"Especially for those in the retail and service sectors, that’s where their fears are right now," he said.